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Fitness Basics: The Exercise Bike Is Back

It's time for another look at an old fitness favorite.

Before You Buy a Bike continued...

Here are some questions to consider:

How much should you spend? A stationary bike can cost from a hundred dollars to a couple of thousand, depending on its features. Experts suggest buying something within your price range that offers the stability, convenience, and control you desire. But don't overspend -- particularly if you're not sure you'll stick with a cycling program.

Eskola recommends buying from a local fitness equipment dealer, who can offer a warranty, service contract, and more assistance in operating the bike than a chain department or discount store. She also says, "You get what you pay for," so choose a bike made by a reputable company. Spending $700 to $800, she says, will give you a great bike that will last.

"I definitely suggest you get one that has some options," Eskola says. "As you get better, you're going to want to upgrade."

However, Magee is perfectly happy with a manual stationary bike she bought for $300. At the time, she thought that was a lot, but she has since decided it was worth it.

Should you get a used bike? If you belong to a gym, ask staffers to notify you when the gym upgrades its bikes. Many health clubs will sell their used stationary bikes to members at minimal cost. Even a bike that the club used for indoor cycling classes might work for you: They are stable and small, and because they operate with belts or chains, they simulate the feeling of an outdoor bike.

You can also look in the classified ads or ask local retailers about used and reconditioned bikes. Talk to friends as well, says Calabrese. 

Can you convert your outdoor bike? If you already have an outdoor bike, says Calabrese, consider buying a cycle trainer or set of rollers. Trainers essentially let you convert an outdoor bike into a stationary one by elevating and mounting the back wheel and removing the front wheel. Rollers are for more experienced riders because you have to balance your back wheel on them to ride. Both are easy to store when not being used. 

Should you go recumbent? Recumbent bikes, which became popular about a decade ago, tend to be favored by seniors or those needing a rehabilitation tool. "They're comfortable and non-impact," says Calabrese.

But don't mistake that for easier, she warns. "When you're upright, you've got weight and gravity on your side. When you're lying back (recumbent), you have to do almost more work to turn the crank."

Whatever bike you choose; make sure you feel comfortable with it. Try it out in the store, with the shoes you'll be wearing. And ride for more than a few seconds to make sure it stays comfortable. You may even ask the retailer for a trial period to test the bike in your own environment.

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